In the past few days, there has been extensive coverage of Wikipedia’s “categorygate”. In this post, I am not concerned with the details of what happened during the debate over the category “American women novelists”. Needless to say, there has been outrage over what was perceived as sexism on Wikipedia and great wringing of hands over the fact that roughly 10% of the editorbase of Wikipedia is female and thus this travesty (if that is what it was) was allowed to happen. If only there were more women on Wikipedia, the argument goes, this would not have happened.
But no one has talked to the women who actually are on Wikipedia.
According to “Category:Female Wikipedian”, there are approximately 1800 Wikipedians who identify as female and have potentially interesting views on the gender dynamics of the site. Yet, in all of the press coverage that I have read, not one single female Wikipedian has been interviewed or quoted. Amanda Filipacchi, whose op-ed first started the debate; Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, who is not involved in the discussion in any significant way; female authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, whose Wikipedia pages would be affected and who tweeted about the debate; and male or gender-unidentified Wikipedians have all been quoted extensively. No press outlets that I know of quoted the female Wikipedian most responsible for gender outreach or a Wikipedian like myself, who is a female academic well-versed in both the inner-workings of Wikipedia and a scholar of literature.
This journalistic choice demonstrates that there was a predetermined narrative set up: sexist men on Wikipedia need to be tutored by feminist women outside it. Thus the voices of women on Wikipedia or feminist Wikipedians in the academy would have troubled that story. The narrative told by the media replicates some of the same problems that they are identifying with Wikipedia. By refusing to let the voices of the minority be heard - female Wikipedians - they are reinscribing and replicating an easy narrative about how sexism can simply be fixed by “adding women” to Wikipedia. Even if this narrative sounds feminist and progressive - it isn’t.
By ignoring all of the women already on Wikipedia, it is as if we are all invisible. As if all of the contributions, hard work, and debates we already contribute are utterly disregarded. Also, assuming that the women of Wikipedia haven’t thoughtfully considered many of these difficult questions about female representation and categorization, raised them on the site, and wrestled with them is insulting and, frankly, disheartening to the many of us that are here. In fact, the project to counter systemic bias was created on Wikipedia way back in October 2004. And in the last six weeks alone, there have been at least two organized US-wide edit-a-thons to focus on improving the coverage of women in Wikipedia and increasing the numbers of women editing.
Wikipedia is a self-reflective site - many of us here know the site’s weaknesses and are actively trying to remedy them. Talk to us and you will find out about our many efforts and successes.
Next post: The politics of recruiting women to Wikipedia